Grace For The Journey
Today we come to the last chapter of our verse-by-verse study through Hebrews. Chapter 13 is a chapter containing a number of practical exhortations about living the Christian life in our everyday world. The writer reminds us that Hebrews . . .
Is not primarily a theological
Treatise on the new covenant,
But a letter written to real people
Living in the real world.
It is a letter about how
Theology is to be lived out.
Doctrine leads to duty.
Instruction leads to application.
Revelation (the revealed word) leads to responsibility.
Yesterday we saw that we belong to an unshakable kingdom and the things that cannot be taken from us. This leads us to grateful hearts, surrendered wills, and spirited of God.
What that worshipful gratitude looks like is evidenced in the succeeding actions of Chapter 13. We will be looking at the first six verses this morning. Through our study we will discover three main things—compassion towards others, a commitment to purity; and then contentment with the things we have.
We are going to be looking this morning at how . . .
Gratitude to God for the life
We have in Christ leads to specific
Attitudes towards God and one another.
The Gospel empowers us and
Motivates us to live rightly among others.
You may have heard about the pastor who was preaching on forgiveness, forgiving one another, and especially forgiving our enemies. After he preached the message, he asked his congregation by show of hands, “How many of you can forgive your enemies?” Most of the hands went up, but there was this sweet older lady on the front row who did not raise her hand. And he said to her, “Mrs. Smith, can you not forgive your enemies?” To which she replied, “Well, I don’t have any.” And the pastor said, “Really! No enemies. What a great example for us!” And he asked her join him on the platform. And he said, “How old are you, Mrs. Smith.” She said, “I’m 98 years old.” He said, “98 years old and no enemies! How is that possible?” And She said, “It’s easy. I’ve simply outlived them all!”
The writer of Hebrews wants us to do more than outlive our enemies. The Gospel empowers us and motivates us to love God and love others rightly. Let me invite you to consider these three main actions Christians are to have . . .
1) Be Compassionate Towards People – Verses 1-3.
Verse one states, “Let brotherly love continue.” The word “love” is the Greek word “philadeplhia.” J. Vernon McGee insists we translate it “brother Love” and I think he may be right. Brotherly sounds a bit weak, almost optional, whereas Brother Love is real clear: Love your brother. He is talking about our Christian brothers and sisters. Our brother is any man or woman, who is “in Christ.”
This verse is similar to Hebrews 10:24 which says, “And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works.” We are to love for one another in the church with a brother love, irrespective of race, regardless of social background or personality type. The writer says we are to let brotherly love “continue.” This suggests we have a tendency to forget. We are to keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters regardless what they do or say. Then this love for one another within the church is to flow out the church doors and into the community – a love for others who are not necessarily brothers and sisters.
Verse 2 tells us, “Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some have unwittingly entertained angels.” The word “strangers” is a word that suggests both Christians and non-Christians. In fact, there seems to be a wordplay in the original, in the Greek. Brother love was “philadelphia” and this word for strangers is “philoxenia” and so the writer is saying something like, “Hey, remember: Compassion towards people includes both philadelphia and philoxenia.”
The word “entertain” connotes hospitality, demonstrating compassionate hospitality towards strangers. He has in mind active compassion towards those who are in need. In first century, this active compassion often took the form of providing a place to stay and food to eat. When folks were traveling in the ancient near east, there were no Holiday Inns or Comfort Suites that provided comfortable, safe rooms, and hot breakfasts. Many inns were dangerous and uncomfortable places. So, Christians provided their own houses as places of refuge for weary travelers.
The natural attitude of a Christian is one of hospitality. Christians want to be hospitable to both believers and nonbelievers. It makes us feel good to provide for others. But we can forget over time and become protective of our things. Churches can turn inward and forget to turn outward.
I heard about a grandfather who used to say this short humorous prayer when he prayed before his meals, “Thank God for the four of us; thank God there is no more of us!” Some people apply that sort of thinking to the church – “Us four and no more.” The Bible says, “Do not forget to entertain strangers.” Reach out. Provide for others. Invite them to come in.
Then the writer makes a statement in verse 2 that causes us to sit up and take notice, “Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some have unwittingly, or unknowingly entertained angels.” In showing hospitality to strangers, some Christians have entertained angels without realizing it. Is that an amazing sentence?! What is he getting at? We have noted before the writer takes for granted that his readers know the Old Testament well. He may be alluding to Abraham back in Genesis 18 and 19; Abraham’s showing hospitality to some mysterious visitors not knowing they were actually angels.
Do not miss the author’s point here. He does not want us to get sidetracked on a theological discussion about angelology, the study of angels in the Scriptures and what angels really look like, and so on. There is a place for that, but that is not what he’s wanting us to do . . .
He is wanting us to be
People, all people,
Even folks we don’t know.
This is a pretty clever way of saying, in essence: Just act like every person you meet is an angel, and you will do well. Just act like every person you run into, whether you know them or not, just treat them like an angel, and you will be showing genuine love, genuine compassion and hospitality.
That homeless person outside the restaurant; the old man in the wheelchair you are walking by in the hallway; the wanderer alongside the highway. If you knew they were angels, would you be more likely to be hospitable? The salesperson who is interrupting the ballgame knocking on your door; the single mom with the unruly child ahead of you in line at the grocery store; the young lady in prison.
Verse 3 specifically speaks to this, “Remember the prisoners as if chained with them – those who are mistreated –since you yourselves are in the body also.” Remember the prisoners. Be compassionate towards them, too. He probably means primarily those who are in prison for persecution. You will recall that from chapter 10 where he recalled this attitude earlier, Hebrews 10:34, “You had compassion on those in prison.” Christian persecution led to mistreatment. The writer encourages his readers to remember them “as if chained with them,” and he adds, “since you yourselves are in the body also.” That last phrase could refer to the Body of Christ, the church. You and I are members of the body, the church. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 12;26, “When one member of the body suffers, all the body suffers.” The writer could be just referring to the physical limitations of our human bodies. We all are “in the body” and therefore we suffer hunger and pain. In either case, the point is clear: Remember those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering, feeling their pain in your own bodies.
I said that the writer probably has in mind primarily those who are in prison for persecution. At the same time, however, we know that people were often imprisoned in Bible times for other reasons: inability to pay debts, for example, as some of the parables of Jesus reflect. There could be other reasons for imprisonment, men and women unjustly prosecuted, or people awaiting trial. In any case, our Lord Jesus said in Matthew 25:35-36, “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.” When Jesus spoke those words in Matthew 25 the people are like, “Wait a minute Jesus, I do not remember your being in prison! You! Locked up?! I do not remember your asking me for a sandwich outside Subway last week! I do not remember your asking for a couple bucks standing along the main strip in Butler. I think I’d remember that.” And Jesus said, “Inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me” (Matthew 25:40).
Our first action – Be compassionate towards people. Our second action . . .
II. Be Committed To Purity – Verse 4.
Verse 4 says, “Marriage is honorable among all, and the bed undefiled; but fornicators and adulterers God will judge.” Here is a clarion call to purity, a commitment to sexual purity. The writer first extols the virtue of marriage. He says marriage is honorable among all, it is a good thing. Not everyone must be married, but it is a good thing to be married. Honoring marriage among all includes abiding by God’s exclusive definition of marriage as the committed monogamous union of a man and a woman. To define Christian marriage otherwise is to impose upon God’s definition man’s rebellious preferences.
The writer adds, “and the bed undefiled.” That is another way of saying sex within marriage is a good thing. Christian intimacy is neither bad, nor dirty, nor evil. It is honorable and the bed undefiled. Truth is, no one enjoys intimacy better than Christian husbands and wives. Intimacy is God’s gift. But it is an intimacy to be enjoyed in the boundaries of marriage.
Then the writer adds this statement at the end of verse 4, “but fornicators and adulterers God will judge.” The word “fornicators” is the word “pornous,” from which we get “pornography.” It is a word that encompasses sexual immorality in general, and more specifically sexual impurity among those who are unmarried. The word translated “adulterers” is a different word, a word that refers to impure relationship among married persons.
The last three words of verse 4 should get our attention: “God will judge.” God will judge all “fornicators and adulterers.” Those who are not Christians have even greater cause for concern in that God will judge them outside of Christ. Unbelievers have no righteousness of Christ credited to them. They are separated from God. Their fornication or adultery is part of their sin in general that needs the forgiveness of Jesus Christ. They need to be saved to escape final condemnation in hell. Maybe some of you reading this today need Christ. You need to repent, turn from your sin, and turn to Jesus to be saved.
God will also judge the Christian who has engaged in fornication or adultery. The judgment of God for Christians does not mean final condemnation in hell. It means God will discipline Christians. Hebrews 12:6 says, “For whom the Lord loves He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives.” God’s judgment upon Christians is not about God’s punishing us and final condemnation in hell. Jesus Christ took all of God’s punishment upon us for sin; Jesus took all the wrath of God for believers. How we thank God for that!
God’s judgment upon Christians who engage in fornication and adultery has to do with His chastening and scourging those He loves. This judgment has to do with loss of future rewards in heaven as well as His allowing us to suffer consequences here in this life. King David for his adultery, for example, suffered great consequences for his sexual immorality. You cannot help but notice it in the years of his life after he committed adultery with Bathsheba. He was a broken man, a weaker man. A bird does not fly as high when its wing is damaged. We are wise to take heed to the writer’s warning and be committed to purity. Paul warns in Galatians 6:7: “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.”
We have always needed this call for sexual purity among God’s people. It is a message that is not always well received by popular culture. Even John the Baptist got his head chopped off for preaching against open marriage (Matthew 14). Despite the popular Hollywood movies, despite the popular music we stream on our devices, despite the popular television, Netflix and Hulu episodes, sex belongs exclusively in marriage and nowhere else. Does that sound prudish? I am sure it does by today’s lax moral standards, but it is true nonetheless. You will be glad to follow God’s Word to the letter here. It will save you from a world of hurt.
Someone has rightly said, “Sin will take you farther than you want to go, keep you longer than you want to stay, and cost you more than you want to pay.” If someone laughs at you for being so “puritanical,” you tell them, “Thank you!” Do you know what the word puritanical means? It comes from the word “puritan.” Like our godly English Baptist forebears who crossed the Atlantic to live in this country as those who loved God with all their hearts, souls, minds, and strength it is a badge of honor to be called puritanical. But before we “Amen” too loudly, let us remember it was Jesus who said that adultery is not just something you do with your body, but adultery is something you can do with your mind, with your thinking. In Matthew 5:27-28 He said, ““You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”
Looking lustfully at the opposite sex leads to adultery in the heart. Looking lustfully, thinking inappropriate thoughts, and viewing sexually explicit images on the internet, all of these things may lead to our downfall if we do not take charge of our thoughts and, as Paul says in 2 Corinthians 10:5, “…take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.” It takes discipline. Adrian Rogers used to say about people of whom it is said “How far they had fallen,” that we did not know how low they were living. In other words, people do not usually fall a great distance all at once. It occurs little by little over time. Compromise here, a little compromise there. We cover up on the outside, but we have been living low for quite some time, indulging that secret sin. Deal with it and get rid of it this morning. Decide to live for the Lord instead of for lust. And when you sense that it is starting to raise its ugly head again through sexually suggestive comments others make, or you think, or a joke, or something that you see on a screen, act against it again.
When we are driving on the highway and all of us have seen those guardrails around curves and alongside a bridge. Why are they there? They are there not to punish you, but to keep you on the road, to keep you from veering off in the wrong direction. God’s rules for sex and marriage are like guardrails that God has put up in your life, not to punish you, but to keep you on the road of life and to keep you from veering from His way and hurting yourself.
Our first action – Be compassionate towards people . . . Our second action – Be committed to purity. Thirdly . . .
III. Be Content With Possessions – Verses 5-6.
Verse 5 says, “Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’” This was one of my first memory verses years ago. I memorized from the King James Version and it reads, “Let your conversation be without covetousness.’” The word “conversation” was the Old English way of referring to “behavior.” The writer is talking about our behavior, or our conduct being without covetousness, but be content with such things as you have.
In the original, in the Greek, “covetousness” is more literally, “the love of money.” The real focus here is keeping our lives free from love of money. Remember, it is not money that is the problem, it is the love of money. The Bible tells us in 1 Timothy 6:10, “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil …” God is wanting us to be honest with our hearts here. If someone says they do not love money, but they fantasize about it, romance it, and lose sleep over it, that sounds a lot like love to me!
The writer goes on to say, “Be content with such things as you have.” He is not saying, “Stop working. Just lay down and don’t do anything.” Contentment is not a call to be idle. The Bible is replete with exhortations to hard work, even build wealth, and being good economic stewards of what God gives you. What the writer is doing here is giving Christians an important spiritual principle: Don’t love stuff. It is the 10th Commandment: Exodus 20:17 says, “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbor’s.”
Madison Avenue suggests something very different! They may as well say: “Covet this! Covet that!” I heard about a man and his wife who were in a meeting one time and they were talking to some friends during a break. The wife complimented her friend for the dress she was wearing. The woman said, “Well I didn’t want to covet it, so I bought it!” I do not think that is what the writer has in mind!
Notice something unexpected here in verse 5. The writer says, “Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have.” You would expect the writer to conclude by saying something like, “for God will provide all you need.” But he does not do that. The writer says, “… Be content with such things as you have,” why? “For He Himself has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you’ and he is quoting there from Deuteronomy 31 and Joshua 1.
The writer is teaching us that
Contentment is something built
Upon the character of God, namely
The fact that He is always with us.
His will always be present.
Literally, the Greek is, “No, I will not leave, no, nor forsake you.’” My English teacher in high school used to get on to me using a double-negative in my papers. Notice that God uses a quadruple negative! “No … I will not … no … nor…”
Verse 6 expands upon this fact . . .
That the Lord Himself is
The bedrock of our security.
Contentment does not come from
Our owning a lot of things and
Having enough and feeling secure
So we can sit back and enjoy it all.
Contentment is found in Christ alone.
Verse 6 declares, “So we may boldly say: ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?’” This is a quote from Psalm 118, a popular Jewish Thanksgiving Psalm, used often in festivals. The writer is driving home the point that contentment is found solely in Christ. This was Paul’s point in Philippians 4: “I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content” … “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (verses 11-14).
One writer says we must remember that nothing overly tragic can happen to us. We can lose everything we have, and it will be okay so long as we endure in the faith. our Lord warns in Luke 12:15, “Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses.” I admit this is easy to say and a much harder thing to actually live out. But everything that can be taken away from us will be taken away from us one day. Nevertheless, we have everything we need in Christ, and we can be content because we serve a God who cares for us. The Lord is on our side. Our life is in Christ! He is our greatest possession. All I have is Christ!
This is God’s Word …
This is Grace for your Journey …
Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!
Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”
Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”